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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Slip & Fall: Landlord's Should Take Notice

Virginia is one of the most difficult states in the country in which to win a slip and fall case by an injured party. Nevertheless, a jury recently awarded a Plaintiff $2.5 million against a landlord for a slip and fall. Yet, a previous jury hearing the same case presented by the same attorneys awarded $0. The vagaries of the jury system account for this stark discrepancy, but the ultimate verdict indicates that landlords need to understand their obligations to safeguard the public from injury while on their premises.

Three 1992 Virginia Supreme Court cases prevent most victims of slip & falls from succeeding. A&P Tea Co. v. Rosenberger, establishes that owners of property are not insurers or guarantors of the safety of business invitees. Colonial Stores v. Pulley states that plaintiffs must prove that the owner created the defect which caused the fall or at the very least should have known of the problem. A&P Tea Co. v. Berry instructs judges to dismiss the case if the jury must speculate in order to determine that the owner had notice of the defect.

Thus, in order to recover Plaintiffs must prove that the defendant knew or should have known of the defect which caused the fall. This standard of proof is extremely difficult since many victims do not know why they fell or cannot conclusively prove that the owner or lessor of the property actually knew a problem existed. However, violations of building codes and standards can overcome proof difficulties since many such violations are considered negligence per se with no requirement of notice.

The $2.5 million case was successful because Plaintiff introduced evidence that there was grease or greasy water on the floor of the fast food restaurant. Another case was successful because a leaky roof was not repaired after notification by a tenant. A more complex case succeeded when a succulent plant was shown to be shedding leaves because of improper care by the plant section of the department store, which also failed to sweep the area for 4 1/2 hours. In addition, a slight erosion of the owner's position is taking place regarding slip on ice cases, since the Supreme Court held that merely walking on ice or snow was not an assumption of the risk or contributory negligence.

Despite these and other cases, the landlord in Virginia has the upper hand if proper attention is paid to dangers for which there is actual notice and if proper maintenance schedules are followed.

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